Victoria opened her mouth to let out the scream that had coiled up inside her, but nothing came. Her jaw only hung as she stared at those off-color eyes, and something else entered into her awareness. A smell wafted under her nose, breaking through the stink of the city and the horror of what lay at her feet. It was a fruity smell, pure and clean. The closest Victoria had been to fresh fruit in nearly eight years was the rotten pungency of cheap wine. This was the healthy scent of a freshly sliced orange. The juicy richness of a fat strawberry, dribbling down her chin and across her tongue. As she stared at the boy’s face, his teeth crooked and gleaming through the gore spilling from his mouth, a memory battled its way through the rising hysteria in her mind and took over.
A silver tray sat between them on the bed. She was fifteen years old and they had a secret. They had many secrets, she and Albert, not the least of which was the assortment of fruits and cheeses he’d brought for them to share. A soft breeze rolled in through her open bedroom window and a shiver ran up her back. Albert picked up a slice of pear and slipped it onto her tongue. It was crunchy and perfect.
“Here’s something special, just for you, little one,” Albert said as he uncovered a crystal serving dish sitting at the center of the tray. Inside was a neatly arranged pile of little red globes.
“What is it?” Victoria asked. She was never particularly adventurous in her tastes, but Albert brought out a desire to try anything and everything.
“An associate shipped in a case of them from Persia. Close your eyes and open your mouth.”
“Is it fruit?” she asked, having never seen anything like it. The globes appeared to be wet with a dark red juice that was intimidating in its alien strangeness.
“Shhh little one,” Albert said. It made her heart melt when he called her that. She wanted to be little. She wanted not to tower over her friends and brothers. Her parents. Albert. Nearly everyone she knew. Victoria closed her eyes and let her mouth fall open. When she felt the silver spoon pass between her teeth, she closed her lips and the pods danced over her tongue.
“Suck the pulp and then chew the seeds,” Albert whispered, that flicker of enthusiasm in his voice that she found so charming. He wasn’t like her father’s other friends and colleagues. There was a childlike sense of glee under his stuffy suits and perfectly clipped white mustache. When they were together, she got the sense that he was able to find adventure through her youth. Each experience he would bring to her was staged and presented in such a way that he could relive that discovery. Her eyes and mouth and body were his doorway to reclaiming who he was.
The sour bite of the seeds surprised her and she opened her eyes to find him smiling. The juice of the fruit stained his mustache and teeth. His smile broadened into a crooked grin and the red juice ran across his lips and chin in rivulets. Those eyes, once bright and full of life, even in their age, looked empty and faded, as though covered with a thin layer of melted wax.
No. That wasn’t the memory. That wasn’t Albert. She was in the graveyard of Spitalfields and she needed to move, immediately. The boy was reaching for her, his fingers impossibly long and nearly white in the places they weren’t red.